HOUSTOn we have THE WORLD RIGHT HERE IN OUR BACK YARD! "Teach me a new Language & I will teach you a new skill"
It’s becoming no secret that Houston is now the most diverse city in the USA, and the international influence means you can find most anything in the world here. From samples of the best food around the globe, to art and other cultural representations, Houston is a microcosm of the world right here in our back yard. However, with all of this variety, sometimes we overlook the most obvious asset—people. Of course, businesses have known for quite some time having the best and brightest worldwide all in one city has its advantages, but what about the rest of us? We are just now waking up to the cool factor of what it means to culturally sample the entire planet all in one place.
Ten years ago, David & Mandy Brake met each other and started Teachers To Go, a company that brings certified Texas classroom teachers to your home for academic tutoring and private lessons. Mandy was an international engineer who spoke three languages, and David was a teacher and musician who created a new niche by providing social services for learning. Things were going well, and a few years later the two were married. By that time, they had grown the company to hundreds of teachers, covering most of greater Houston.
The only problem was, not everyone could afford the services of professional instructors, and they would often get calls from people who needed help and couldn’t afford a qualified tutor or professional teacher. In particular, they found this happened a lot with folks who had moved to Houston recently from overseas who needed to improve their English.
David & Mandy’s solution for help with learning English at no cost was a little thing called language exchange. Language exchange is just what it sounds like: I’ll help you if you help me. (Someone who needs to learn English is paired with an American partner who wants to learn his or her language - in exchange.) For instance: “I’ll teach you English for ½ hour if you teach me Spanish for ½ hour”, or “I’ll help you practice your English if you help me practice Mandarin.” Language partners usually pair up and meet at a library or coffee shop to practice and help each other once or twice a week.
There are millions of people practicing language exchange worldwide, and there’s a reason. You might think it’s because it’s effective, and that part is true: it is effective. (Language exchange has often been cited as the fastest way to get a second language under your belt for work or travel.) This is because to learn a language, you have to practice (ie: you have to “do” it), otherwise you are only studying it instead of gaining the actual ability to communicate. But that’s not the only reason why millions of people are practicing language exchange, they’re also doing it because it’s fun. In fact, the real secret is, even if you learn absolutely nothing, language exchange is the most effective way to make friends from other cultures outside of your usual social circles.
David & Mandy soon turned their solution into a not-for-profit organization called the Houston Language Partners. The Houston Language Partners promotes language exchange, and hosts monthly speed-friending events to help everyone find a partner. “Finding a partner is not as simple as meeting just anyone who is your language match, it’s more like picking your friends,” says Mandy. “You have to like and respect them to get along.” The Houston Language Partners membership has now grown through word of mouth only to over 5,000 members including all social media channels, a growth David & Mandy both attribute to Houston’s international influence. The story doesn’t end there though.
Early on, the organizers noticed a supply and demand issue with some languages. For instance, there were more Urdu & Turkish speakers wanting to learn English, than English speakers wanting to learn Turkish or Urdu. The solution was two-fold: 1) ask for volunteers to teach English (which they still do), and 2) open it up to other subjects. For example: If my language is Urdu, you might not want to learn my language, but I can teach you computer programming or how to play the guitar. The second solution has taken on a life of its own.
www.LRNGO.com is a mobile teach and learn marketplace where individuals connect nearby to meet and learn from each other. David & Mandy started LRNGO.com a few years back as a company in their spare time, and LRNGO now has thousands of local users in Houston, as well as almost every major city in the world. It is free for anyone to use, and as simple as typing in your zip code and a subject you want to learn. (For free exchange, you can narrow down the search results by also typing in a subject you teach to get an exact match.) You will find all levels of teachers on LRNGO (from hobbyists down the street to PHD’s and well-known experts) and pricing levels (from free to hundreds of dollars an hour), and can contact anyone at any time at no cost. LRNGO also allows you to find nearby practice partners by searching for members who are learning the same thing as you.
David & Mandy are quick to point out that LRNGO is a free open directory resource, and as such there is no guarantee of results. However, one thing they say is guaranteed. If you meet a learning exchange partner who is the right fit for you, whether through LRNGO.com or at one of their speed-friending events, you will enjoy the experience. Bringing people together to make new friends and help each other, they say, makes everything they do worthwhile.
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